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Reorganizations are a simply a fact of organizational life.
updated 6/3/2012 12:36:43 PM ET 2012-06-03T16:36:43

One of senior management’s favorite pastimes is moving around the boxes — and the people inside them. I’m not suggesting that reorganizations are frivolous exercises geared to entertain executives (although I’m sure it seems that way to people on the receiving end). Most managers do reorganize with good intentions — to grow revenues, reduce costs, improve customer focus, etc. In their minds, shaking things up is a decisive way to achieve goals.

But by themselves reorganizations rarely solve problems or improve corporate performance. No matter the structure, there still will be tensions, competition for resources, and misalignment. There is no such thing as a “perfect” structure. There is no way to simultaneously align the organization’s structure with products, functions, geographies, market segments, customers, capabilities, personalities, and technologies (to name a few). The challenge is to make the structure work — regardless of its flaws.

So what do you do if your organization has been shuffled, turned, twisted, and restructured? Here are a few survival tips for personal and organizational success.

First, recognize that every reorganization creates a certain amount of disequilibrium, confusion, and complexity. Imagine if someone suddenly rearranged the clothes in your closet: You’d probably feel disoriented or uncomfortable when you went to find something. It’s the same with reorganizations: The established patterns for getting things done have been rearranged. You have to develop new routines, adjust to a revised cast of characters, and even deal with “survivor’s guilt” if any of your colleagues lost jobs or were moved elsewhere. So the starting point for moving forward is to remember that the distress is normal, and your colleagues are probably experiencing those feelings as well.

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To get past the discomfort, make a conscious effort to figure out how you can be most successful in the new structure. As mentioned, reorganizations are usually orchestrated to achieve certain goals. Make sure that you and your people know the “reorganization intent” and the implications for possible shifts in priorities. For example, one consumer packaged goods company centralized its marketing team so that it could reduce costs, but also focus on products with the greatest growth potential. However, marketers prided themselves on being responsive to every request from product managers, which meant that they continued putting as much effort into low-priority products as those with more potential. Until they figured out what they had to stop doing, the marketing team was perceived to be resistant and ineffective.

Finally, take a process view of your new organization. Often when the structure changes, key processes need to be rewired. Consider this as an opportunity to influence others in your value chain so that the entire end-to-end process becomes more effective. For example, in the CPG company above, the marketing team eventually initiated a series of working sessions with people from product management, finance, IT, and strategy to reshape the prioritization process and the marketing workflow — which helped the overall organization to be more effective.

It’s easy to complain about reorganizations, but the reality is that they are a fact of organizational life. So we might as well make the most of them — both for ourselves and our companies.

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© 2012 Forbes.com


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